An Arabic teacher in south western Pakistan has been sent to judicial custody on charges of blasphemy.
The teacher at a Government High School in Gurumani, in Muzzafargarh was arrested in May following complaints from the parents of two students.
The school suspended the teacher after the parents complained that he had thrashed the two brothers for coming late to class.
The parents of the Class six students slapped blasphemy charges four days after the teacher was suspended.
What followed next was right out of an all too familiar script.
A murderous mob soon surrounded the school shouting slogans against the Arabic teacher.
Qazi Mohammed Ajmal, the head teacher of the school locked up the Arabic teacher in a class room.
He was later handed over to the police.
Ajmal said the parents had only cited that their children were thrashed and there was no mention of
blasphemy in the original complaint.
But he later said there were conflicting statements from students that the Arabic teacher had made blasphemous remarks now as well as in the past.
The police officer who made the arrest claimed that the accused seemed to be suffering from “psychological issues”.
Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law which can be invoked on the statement of a lone witness has been widely misused to settle personal scores and business rivalries. Most of those who have been targeted have been the countries religious minorities like Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Ahmadis.
While several other countries have laws to punish those whose expressions are deemed blasphemous, Pakistan leads the world in the invocation of this law.
Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan Penal Code mandates death penalty, life imprisonment or fine for blasphemy.
At least a 100 are arrested every year on charges of “insulting Islam or Prophet Mohammed”. The South Asian nation also has scores of undertrials languishing in its prisons, waiting for their case to come up for hearing. It also has the notorious record of having handed down dozens of life terms and death sentences under this controversial law.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its 2016 report that it was aware of “40 individuals currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan”.
A major international campaign is underway to seek clemency for Asia Bibi who was the first Pakistani woman to be sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy. Pope Benedict had also sought pardon for the mother of five children in 2010. France, Italy and Spain had offered her and family asylum if she is released.
The poor farm hand who was living in a suburb of the eastern city of Lahore was accused of using a metal cup used by her Muslim co-workers to drink water. She was sentenced to the death in November 2010 after a neighbour complained that she had made blasphemous remarks against the Prophet.
It is said the complainant had a running feud with Asia and her family over property.
Even though dozens have been on death row, Pakistan has never executed any one for blasphemy. Those who have been acquitted live in the constant fear of being attacked by vigilante groups.
Several have been lynched by mobs as soon as the accusations were made. police say they often arrest the accused to save them from the mobs.
Rimsha Masih, a 14 year old Christian girl who was falsely accused by a cleric of burning the Holy Koran had to go into hiding for months after her acquittal.
Salman Taseer, the influential governor of eastern Punjab province who helped Bibi file a mercy petition and talked about the need for reforms to the harsh law, was assassinated by his security guard Mumtaz Qadri in January 2011 in Islamabad.
Two months after Taseer’s killing, Shahbaz Bhatti who was Pakistan’s minorities minister was gunned down by extremists in the country’s capital.
The lone Christian in the Pakistani cabinet had called for amendments to the blasphemy law that has been widely misused to target religious minorities in the Muslim majority nation.
Its also in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab that Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Lawyer Forum or the Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood operates.
This sinister organisation was responsible for the spurt in the prosecutions of those accused of blasphemy in the country, Reuters said in a report in March.
Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry who leads the organisation say they have lawyers across Pakistan who provide free legal assistance to those who file complaints against alleged blasphemers.
Defendants quoted by Reuters allege that Chaudhury and his lawyers, often accompanied by a band of clerics, intimidate them in court with threats and slogan shouting.
Chaudhury, who unsuccessfully pleaded Qadri’s case say there are some 700 lawyers in their collective in Punjab province which has registered the maximum number of cases.
The largely feudal Punjab is also home to majority of the country’s religious minorities.